To Hell with Alphas: Part 1: Fantasy is Dead!

To Hell with Alphas: Part 1: Fantasy is Dead!

It’s official! The Fantasy and Dystopia genres are dead! Long live Social Realism!

So says blogger muchbooks in a recent blog on Young Adult novels. Muchbooks offers no evidence for this singular assertion other than “the charts” – whichever charts these may be. In fact, as of spring 2015, Fantasy and Dystopia were being feted as never before. It can’t be denied that a number of social realism books have also been successfully released lately.

Their numbers are on the rise, particularly amongst young adult (YA) readers–the life’s blood of both Fantasy and Dystopia. And perhaps what muchbooks has to say should be taken as a warning shot across the bow of a pair of genres that now risk becoming overconfident and, in the process, irrelevant and moribund.

Muchbooks notes that characters in social realism novels “are often flawed, imperfect and facing similar problems to those of the reader” whereas characters’ problems in fantasy and dystopia “are often alien and unrecognizable.”

Point well taken.

But the flaw in muchbooks’ argument is that he or she presumes such defects are inherent in these genres. They are not, though, given the state of much of fantasy these days, one might be forgiven for thinking as much. All too often, editors try to get authors to generate these kind of characters if they’re not already present – often at the insistence of publishers.

They are alpha characters, male and female, boring us with increasingly preposterous stories and situations with each unimaginative, lazy repetition of this demand. The argument given in support of the demand is that alpha characters represent wish-fulfillment for the reader or the audience: That they can plug their own personality into the gaps left by alpha character’s deliberately sketchy description and live the adventure vicariously through him or her. But, as muchbooks points out, the reader doesn’t even relate to these characters, much less wish to be them.

Why? I can tell you why: Because, nearly all alpha characters lack sufficient personality for anyone to even connect with, much less plug into and inhabit – there’s no “there” there.

Take an obvious example, the superhero genre. Professor and commentator Jason Wilson and I do have our differences from time to time , but one area we definitely agree on is that the current crop of super-hero tales is entirely un-involving. In this world, as he puts it, “everything and nothing is at stake.”

The fate of the world hangs in the balance, but the fix is already in – these characters are invincible and there’s no way they can lose. There’s no tension or uncertainty, hence, no real involvement (except maybe speculation about the kind of computer generated effects that will turn up in the movie versions). Character arcs are nonexistent. They fight, set up for the next battle, and fight some more.

The analysis, certainly better than anything I‘d have articulated, explains why at 10, I started easing away from the comic books I’d been addicted to since I was first able to read, in favor of Punch and Mad. By the time I was 12, I’d added The Realist and chucked comics altogether. If I’ve any quarrel with Wilson’s analysis, it’s that he doesn’t go far enough.

To be continued . . .

© 2015 G.H. McCallum and excerpted from Writer to Writer: First Edition, an anthology published by Writer’s Mastermind Group and available from Amazon books.

Look this coming autumn for G. H. McCallum’s novel The Bluebottle Boys, from Duvanian Press and available from Amazon books.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.